Knife-carrying Palestinians arrested outside settlement
Two Palestinians were arrested on Sunday after trying to enter the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron armed with knives, police said.
A security coordinator for the settlement, west of Nablus, shot in the air as the two approached with their knives drawn, according to police.
Both were then subdued and disarmed, according to reports.
The two, a young man and young woman, were handed over to security forces for questioning.
No injuries were reported in the incident.
West Bank settlements have been the site of several deadly stabbing and shooting attacks by Palestinians during the recent wave of terrorism and violence.
While the violence has dramatically waned in recent months, sporadic attacks have persisted.
Last week, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israelis in the northern West Bank on four separate occasions.
The IDF said that on Friday, two Palestinians shot at an Israeli vehicle as it drove by the Ramallah-area settlement of Nilli.
On Wednesday, the army reported two shooting attacks on Israelis, one adjacent to Ramallah and the other just north of Qalqilya.
There were no injuries in any of those attacks.
Also last Wednesday, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian man who rammed his car into a West Bank bus stop north of Jerusalem.
Israeli civilians and soldiers who were standing at the bus stop were uninjured.
The army said the driver was found to be holding a knife in his hand. (the Times of Israel)
Netanyahu and Trump to meet on February 15
US President Donald Trump is slated to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15 for talks that are expected to cover a range of security issues.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in announcing the meeting, said, “our relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East is crucial to the security of both our nations, and the president looks forward to discussing continued strategic, technological, military and intelligence cooperation with the prime minister.”
Netanyahu then issued a statement saying he “deeply appreciated” Trump’s “kind invitation” and the warm words about Israel.
“I look forward to discussing with him the areas of cooperation between us that are so vital to the security and well-being of our two countries,” he said.
The meeting is seen as one of critical importance in coordinating positions on a number of issues, including Iran, the Palestinian diplomatic process, and the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
A number of senior members in Netanyahu’s cabinet are urging Netanyahu to come to Trump with a clear diplomatic initiative, and a clear message as to what Israel wants to see emerge from a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
The two men, who have known each other for years, last met in September, just a month before the US elections.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu still planned to visit Singapore and Australia next month as well, with Netanyahu expected to return from the US on February 16, and then fly east on February 18. ,This will be the first visit to either of those countries by a sitting prime minister, and – after Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and then foreign minister Avigdor Liberman cancelled trips there over the last three years – it was clear that another such cancellation would not be looked upon favorably in Australia, which is very supportive of Israel in the international arena.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said that in light of reports that Iran has conducted another ballistic missile test in violation of a UN Security Council resolution, one of the issues he will raise with Trump will be the the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. He said it is forbidden that Iranian “aggression” go without a response.
Officials told Fox News on Monday, that the test occurred outside Semnan, about 140 miles east of Tehran, on Sunday.
The missile in question was the Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile, which the officials said flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a reentry vehicle.
The test was in direct violation of a clause in UN resolution 2231, the resolution that endorsed the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which stipulated clearly that Iran could not “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
The United States and Europe lifted sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program when the deal went into effect in January 2016.
During his campaign, Trump expressed his opposition to the nuclear deal reached last year between Iran and worlds powers, calling it , one of the “worst deals” in history.
In an October address to supporters in Jerusalem, Trump vowed that he would stand up to Iran.
“My administration will stand side by side with Israel and Jewish leaders,” Trump said in the recorded video address. “Together, we will stand up to enemies like Iran bent on destroying Israel and your people. Together, we will make America and Israel safe again.”
In light of the perceived deterioration in US-Israel relations prior to the administration changes in the White House, Israelis have voiced expectations that the rapport between the Jewish State and the world power will experience a positive change.
President Trump seemed to side with Israel throughout his presidential race and joined Netanyahu in his criticism of then-President Barack Obama after the latter’s administration did not exercise its ability to veto the Security Council vote on UN Resolution 2334, which called on Israel to halt its settlement construction.
“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” Trump tweeted at the time, noting both Resolution 2334 as well as the Obama administration’s role in brokering an international nuclear deal with Iran. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
President Trump was also critical of the US’s treatment of Israel for the past eight years, and slammed former Secretary of State John Kerry whose speech on Middle East peace heeded that Israel’s political conduct and support of the settlements enterprise was obstructing the process.
Speaking to the media, Trump said that he and Kerry “have different views.” Later on during a press conference, the president said that “Israel has been treated very, very unfairly by a lot of different people.” He also noted on Twitter after Kerry’s speech that “[Israel used to have a great friend in the US, but… not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (UN)!”
Much has been said about the budding work relations between the new American president and the Israeli premier, with both sides expressing warm wishes and mutual support in public media statements.
Even prior to elections, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that Trump’s approach toward the State of Israel was clearly favorable. In a CBS interview in December 2016, the prime minister said that “Trump’s attitude, his support for Israel is clear. He feels very warmly about the Jewish state, about the Jewish people and about Jewish people. There is no question about that.” (Jerusalem Post)
Jerusalem Seeking Clarifications From Trump Administration on Status of 140,000 Israeli Citizens Born in Travel-Ban Countries
Israel is seeking clarifications from the Trump administration regarding the status of its citizens who were born in the countries covered by the travel ban executive order issued on Friday that has sparked global controversy, the Hebrew news site nrg reported on Monday.
According to the report, Israeli entreaties to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and the government in Washington, DC on the matter have gone unanswered thus far.
Around 140,000 Israelis were born in one of the seven Muslim-majority countries subject to the three-month travel restrictions put in place by the executive order — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Most are older Jews who made aliyah in their youth or young adulthood, due to persecution they faced in their home countries following Israel’s establishment.
Some 53,000 living Israeli Jews were born in Iraq and 45,000 were born in Iran, data published by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows. Syria, Yemen and Libya also used to host large Jewish communities.
Israeli passports include place of birth, and it is unknown how the executive order applies either to people who were born in the banned countries but are no longer citizens — or to those who are dual citizens.
According to media reports, some immigration attorneys are advising Israelis in these situations to avoid travel to the US for now.
Meir Javedanfar — an Iranian-born Israeli who teaches at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya — tweeted on Sunday, “Uncertainty & sheer confusion which the new Trump immigration law has created is sign of incompetence + lack of plan. US caught unprepared.” (the Algemeiner)
Mexican Jews alarmed by Netanyahu tweet on Trump’s wall
A number of angry Mexican Jews called Keren Hayesod on Sunday to cancel donations to the organization following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tweet Saturday night seemingly supporting President Donald Trump’s decision to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
According to one official, the organization has received “dozens” of angry calls from infuriated Mexican Jews, with a number saying that they were canceling their contributions because of the tweet that led to a wave of antisemitic comments on social media in the country.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu tweeted the following; “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” At the end of the tweet were pictures of an Israeli and an American flag.
The tweet was immediately denounced by the Mexican government and the Mexican-Jewish community.
“The Foreign Ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s message,” according to a statement issued by the Mexican Foreign Ministry.
“Mexico is a friend of Israel and should be treated as such by its prime minister.”
The Mexican-Jewish community said in a formal statement that it “strongly rejected his [Netanyahu’s] position.”
A few hours afterward, and after Jerusalem became aware of the angry responses to Netanyahu’s tweet, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon clarified that the prime minister was not trying to intervene in the dispute between Mexico and the US.
Netanyahu, Nahshon wrote, “referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share. We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations.”
That message was passed on to the Mexican government by Ambassador to Mexico Jonathan Peled, as well as in a meeting he held Sunday with the local Jewish community.
The Foreign Ministry is weighing the possibility of a phone conversation between President Reuven Rivlin and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to clarify the matter, and to put Mexico’s Jewish community – which numbers some 50,000 – at ease.
By Sunday night, Netanyahu’s tweet received some 93,000 “likes,” and was retweeted more than 47,000 times – including by Trump’s official White House account – far more exposure than he usually gets for his tweets.
The clarification by Nahshon, on the other hand, was retweeted only 66 times, and received 73 “likes.”
Interior Minister Arye Deri, also in an effort to calm the anger of Mexico’s Jews, posted in both Hebrew and Spanish on his Twitter page that he spoke to Netanyahu about the need “to continue the warm relations between Israel and Mexico.”
According to Deri, Netanyahu said Israel will not get involved in the conflict between the two countries over who will pay for the wall.
“We will continue to strengthen the relations with Mexico, where many Jews live with respect and dignity,” he wrote.
Not only was there concern in Jerusalem about how this would impact on Israel’s ties with Mexico – which were strained to a degree last year when Mexico voted for a resolution in UNESCO expunging any Jewish link to the Temple Mount – but it also could complicate Israel’s ties with other Central and South American countries that are also opposed to the wall.
In addition, the appearance that Netanyahu was backing Trump on this matter risks angering large swaths of the Hispanic population in the US, an important demographic that is the target of pro-Israel outreach efforts by a number of US Jewish organizations.
Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, whose tenure ended with Trump’s inauguration on January 20 but who is remaining in Israel in a private capacity until the summer, also tweeted on the matter, writing that it was “hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic US politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump’s demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants.”
Shapiro wrote that “it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard,” and that Netanyahu’s top aides said “a key goal in Trump’s era was keeping bipartisan support for Israel. Now this?” (Jerusalem Post)
Home Front preparing for thousands of rockets
The IDF Home Front Command is preparing for the thousands of rockets expected to strike Israel during the next war, investing hundreds of millions of shekels over the past two years on defensive measures and strengthening strategic capabilities.
The IDF considers Hezbollah the most substantial threat, with at least 120,000 rockets aimed at Israel, many of them able to strike anywhere in the country. While most have a range of just 45 kilometers, the army has said that it expects a bombardment of over 1,000 rockets in the course of just one day.
The Home Front Command currently divides the country into 264 polygon alert zones in which a siren is activated once the flight path and expected landing area of a missile or rocket is calculated.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Israel’s already state-of-the-art alert system is being upgraded, as the number of polygon alert zones is set to increase to a few thousand by April 2018.
The increase in zones means that, as opposed to a siren sounding for an entire city, individual neighborhoods or streets will be alerted to take shelter.
The downside of the increased accuracy is a reduction in alert times. For example, with the present system, a Tel Aviv resident is given approximately a minute-and-a half to take shelter from the moment a siren sounds. With the new system, Tel Aviv residents will have only 45 seconds to one minute to get to a safe zone.
While most rockets are expected to hit open fields due to a lack of precision guidance systems, the IDF expects that an estimated 150,000 civilians would leave their homes in the North in the event of a war with Hezbollah.
Along with the increased rocket threat, the Home Front Command has also identified a threat to Israel’s electronic systems. As a result, the command has recently instructed civilians to buy transistor radios with spare batteries, water bottles and portable electrical chargers.
Coordination and division of responsibilities between the Home Front Command and the National Emergency Authority (known by its Hebrew acronym RACHEL) is said to have significantly improved in the past two years. Local governments, who, along with the command and RACHEL, would be responsible for providing evacuees with any necessary services, have also markedly improved their level of preparedness.
In addition to preparing for a mass evacuation, the IDF has spent millions of shekels on upgrading and constructing new public bomb shelters. In this respect, Tel Aviv is considered one of the best protected cities whereas many areas in the Negev are said to be most at risk.
One third of Israel’s 200,000 Beduin live in unrecognized villages, many of them in the Negev. For this reason, these villages have neither air raid sirens nor bomb shelters, and incoming rockets to these areas are not intercepted by the Iron Dome.
In addition to the 3,000- plus warning sirens throughout Israel, the Home Front Command has also developed apps to alert a user to an incoming rocket or missile as well as automated warnings delivered to all cell phone users. The command has also developed a supplementary alert system for private homes to help ensure that no warning is missed.
The command, which conducts annual drills to prepare for emergency scenarios, has also begun conducting annual nationwide emergency drills for schoolchildren.
In addition, it has begun a project to teach high school students how to administer first aid to themselves, in the event that the arrival of emergency services is delayed. (Jerusalem Post)
A year on, Western Wall plan still stymied by ultra-Orthodox
A year after the cabinet approved what was hailed as an historic agreement over prayer rights at the Western Wall for progressive Jews, no steps have been taken toward implementation due to intense haredi opposition that has all but killed the proposal.
The resolution adopted by the government on January 31 was hailed as a breakthrough for religious pluralism in Israel and as a measure that would bolster the relationship with the Jewish Diaspora, particularly in North America.
The major accomplishments of the deal were that the current site for non-Orthodox prayer at the Robinson’s Arch area at the southern end of the Western Wall would be formally recognized by the state as a prayer site for progressive Jews. It would be governed by a committee that included progressive Jewish representatives and would share a common entrance to the central Western Wall plaza.
Although the haredi ministers in the cabinet voted against the resolution, they were subsequently pressured by the chief rabbis, who had not been consulted on the plan, and by the online haredi press.
As a result, United Torah Judaism and Shas backed away from the deal, and, following an onslaught of denunciations of the progressive Jewish denominations, forced implementation to be frozen.
In the meantime, Shas has submitted legislation that would criminalize non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, including the Robinson’s Arch site. Its penalties for non-observance include, for example, a prison term of six months or a NIS 10,000 fine for a woman caught breaking the law by wearing a tallit.
The High Court of Justice is threatening to intervene. Earlier this month, it appeared to side with a petition demanding that women be allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section of the main Western Wall plaza, ordering the state to explain why this should not be permitted.
Another petition being considered by the court together with the Torah reading suit requests that the court either order the government to implement its own resolution or to divide the main plaza into three sections: men, women and a progressive Jewish prayer area.
In light of concerns that the High Court may force the government to implement the plan, the haredi parties have now demanded that the prime minister call a vote in cabinet to repeal the original resolution.
Although it seems unlikely that the court would take the radical step of dividing the central prayer area into three sections, it is possible that it will instruct the state to allow women to read Torah there.
This would put pressure on the haredi parties to agree to some solution for the Robinson’s Arch site, but would also create a precedent in terms of prayer rights at the site.
Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall prayer rights group, said that if the resolution is repealed by the cabinet, Women of the Wall would continue to pray at the women’s section of the Western Wall and would be willing to go to prison if the Shas bill is approved.
“I’ll organize for hundreds of women to go to the wall with a Torah scroll and be detained, handcuffed, body searched, be indicted and jailed for it,” said Hoffman. “We’ve tried everything in the book, we’ve made big compromises, but the failure to implement this deal shows that violence and bullying pays off,” she added.
Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, lamented the lack of progress on the resolution and expressed concern for the damage being done to Israel-Diaspora relations.
“Who would have thought that one year on we would not be celebrating the anniversary of the agreement, but a yahrzeit [memorial anniversary]. If Israel is the Jewish state, it means it belongs to the entire Jewish people, and if it is not, then it would nullify one of the core principles of Zionism,” said Hess.
He also said that the progressive Jewish denominations would not agree to any further compromises on the original resolution, such as a physical upgrade of the current Robinson’s Arch site without a share in its governance and the joint entrance.
“We won’t agree to physical upgrade. We are done with compromises. We had to give up our decades-old demand to pray at the central Western Wall area, in order to get a site that is not yet in the Jewish consciousness as being the recognized Western Wall prayer site, in order to end the conflict, so we can’t compromise any more,” said Hess.
Rabbi Michael Dolgin, the senior rabbi of the Reform synagogue Temple Sinai Toronto, said that the failure to implement the agreement, combined with the fierce rhetoric from government ministers against progressive Jews, is harmful to the views of Diaspora Jews toward the State of Israel.
“My community is very strongly Zionist. Some of our members are incredibly supportive of the State of Israel and are proud to call themselves lovers of Israel, but now they are thinking maybe they love Israel more than Israel loves them,” said Dolgin.
“When the haredi parties suggest that there should be laws criminalizing non-Orthodox behavior at Western Wall, these statements and actions do terrible damage, which has an incredible impact and are discussed for weeks afterward.”
Dolgin said, however, that “we’re not going to turn away from Israel,” but that the nature of the debate on Israel within has now changed.
“The conversation is more challenging for us when there is public evidence and statements that the state doesn’t value our Judaism,” he said.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, said that the situation in Israel is now worse than before the resolution was approved last year.
“The haredi opposition to the agreement has been accompanied by an unprecedented wave of incitement by government ministers, and every day that passes without implementation, we’re going backwards,” he said.
“The government resolution was aimed at creating a situation in which Israel truly welcomes and respects all Jewish communities, it wasn’t just about allowing egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
“By not implementing the plan, the state is saying non-Orthodox Jews are second-class Jews in the Jewish homeland.” (Jerusalem Post)
Israel: The Eighth Great Power of 2017
by Walter Russell Mead and Sean Keeley American Interest
The U.S. remains the most powerful country on earth, followed by China, Japan, Russia, Germany, India, Iran, and Israel – a new name on our list of the Eight Greats.
This year there’s a new name on our list of the Eight Greats: Israel. A small country in a chaotic part of the world, Israel is a rising power with a growing impact on world affairs. Although 2016 saw the passage of yet another condemnation of Israel at the United Nations, this time in the Security Council thanks to an American decision to abstain rather than veto, overall the Jewish state continues to develop diplomatic, economic and military power and to insert itself into the heart of regional politics.
Three factors are powering Israel’s rise: economic developments, the regional crisis, and diplomatic ingenuity. Looking closely at these tells us something about how power works in the contemporary world.
The economic developments behind Israel’s new stature are partly the result of luck and location, and partly the result of smart choices. As to the luck and location factor, large, off-shore discoveries of natural gas and oil are turning Israel into an energy exporter. Energy self-sufficiency is a boost to Israel’s economy; energy exports boost Israel’s foreign policy clout. In 2016 Erdogan’s Turkey turned on most of its NATO and Western allies; ties with Israel strengthened. Turkey’s Islamist ruler wants gas, and he wants to limit Turkey’s dependence on Russia. Israel is part of the answer.
But beyond luck, Israel’s newfound clout on the world stage comes from the rise of industrial sectors and technologies that good Israeli schools, smart Israeli policies and talented Israeli thinkers and entrepreneurs have built up over many years. In particular, Israel’s decision to support the rise of a domestic cybersecurity and infotech economy has put Israel at the center of the ongoing revolution in military power based on the importance of information control and management to 21st century states. It is not just that private investors all over the world look to invest in Israel’s tech startups; access to Israeli technology (like the technology behind the Iron Dome missile system) matters to more and more countries. It’s not just America; India, China and Russia all want a piece of Israeli tech wizardry.
Other, less glamorous Israeli industries, like the irrigation, desalinization and dry land farming tech that water poor Israel has developed over the decades play their part. Israel’s diplomatic outreach to Africa and its deepening (and increasingly public) relationship with India benefit from Israel’s ability to deliver what people in other countries and governments want.
The second factor in Israel’s appearing on our list is the change in the Middle Eastern balance of power that has transformed Israel from a pariah state to a kingmaker. On the one hand, Syria, one of Israel’s most vociferous enemies and biggest security threats in the old days, has now been broken on the wheel. What has happened in Syria is a terrible human tragedy; but in the cold light of realpolitik the break up of Syria further entrenches Israel’s military supremacy in its immediate neighborhood. Egypt hates Hamas, ISIS and Islamic Jihad as much as Israel does; never has Egyptian-Israeli security cooperation been as close as it is today. Even more consequentially, the rise of Iran and its aspirations to regional hegemony on the one hand and the apparent support for its dreams from the Obama administration made Israel critical to the survival of the Sunni Arabs, including the Gulf states, who loathe Iran and fear a Shia victory in the religious conflict now raging across the Middle East. The Arab Establishment today has two frightening enemies: radical jihadi groups like ISIS on one side, and Iran on the other. Israel has a mix of intelligence and military capabilities that can help keep the regional balance stable; privately and even not so privately many prominent Arab officials today will say that Israeli support is necessary for the survival of Arab independence.
Finally, Israel has managed, uncharacteristically, to advance its global political agenda through effective and even subtle diplomacy. Just as Israel was able to strengthen its relationship with Turkey even as Turkish-U.S. and Turkish EU relations grew distant, Israel has been able to build a realistic and fruitful relationship with Russia despite Russia’s standoff with the west over Ukraine, and Russia’s ties with Iran. The deepening Israel-India relationship has also required patience and skill. Israel’s diplomatic breakthroughs in relations with African countries who have been hostile to Israel since the 1967 war were also built through patient and subtle diplomacy, often working behind the scenes. That behind-the-scenes outreach diplomacy has also helped Israel achieve new levels of contact and collaboration with many Arab countries.
It is not, of course, all sweetness and light. Hezbollah has tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel and, thanks to Iran’s victories in Syria, it can now enjoy much more reliable supplies from its patron. The Palestinian Question is as far from a solution as possible, and even as they fragment and squabble among themselves, the Palestinians continue to fight for Israel’s delegitimation in the UN and elsewhere. Israeli politics are as volatile and bitter as ever. The kaleidoscopic nature of Middle East politics means that today’s hero can be tomorrow’s goat. While the breakdown of regional order has so far been a net positive for Israel’s security and power, things could change fast. In ISIS coup in Saudi Arabia, the collapse of Jordan, the fall of the Sisi government in Egypt: it is not hard to come up with scenarios that would challenge Israel in new and dangerous ways.
Former President Obama and his outgoing Secretary of State, John Kerry (neither widely regarded these days as a master of geopolitics), frequently warned Israel that its policies were leaving it isolated and vulnerable. This is to some degree true: European diplomats, American liberals and many American Jews are much less sympathetic to Israel today than they have been in the past. Future Israeli leaders may have to think hard about rebuilding links with American Democrats and American Jews.
But for now at least, Israel can afford to ignore the dismal croaking of the previous American administration. One of a small handful of American allies to be assiduously courted by the Trump campaign, Israel begins 2017 as the keystone of a regional anti-Iran alliance, a most-favored-nation in the White House, and a country that enjoys good relations with all of the world’s major powers bar Iran. Theodor Herzl would be astonished to see what his dream has grown into; David Ben-Gurion would be astounded by the progress his poor and embattled nation has made.
Palestinians’ Fort of Torture
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
Because it is not Israelis who are perpetrating the abuse, the reports are ho-hum to these journalists.
Hamas is an extremist Islamist movement that does not consider itself obliged to abide by international laws and treaties concerning basic human rights. Indeed, the concept of human rights simply does not exist under Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where public freedoms, including freedom of speech and of the press, are non-existent.
In 2013, two Palestinian detainees reportedly died of torture in the Jericho Central Prison.
A London-based human rights organization reported 3,175 cases of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, by the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in the West Bank during 2016. Hundreds of those detained include university students and lecturers, as well as schoolteachers. During the same year, the PA security forces also detained 27 Palestinian journalists.
Unfortunately for them, they are not going on hunger strikes in an Israeli prison, where such actions garner the immediate interest of the mainstream media.
Many are willing to tell their stories. But who is willing to listen? Not Western governments, human rights organizations and journalists. Most of them seek evil in Israel, and Israel alone.
As Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies occupied themselves in the past two weeks issuing warnings to President Trump against moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reports resurfaced concerning the brutal conditions and human rights violations in a Palestinian prison in the West Bank.
These reports, however, were buried, along with the abuse, in favor of attention to rhetoric directed against the Trump Administration. Anything uttered by Abbas and senior PA officials regarding the possible transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem made it to the headlines of major newspapers and TV networks around the world.
At one point, it actually appeared as if the mainstream media in the West was interested in highlighting and inflating these statements in a bid to pressure Trump into abandoning the idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Western journalists ran to provide platforms for any Palestinian official interested in threatening the Trump Administration.
The threats included warnings that the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem would “destroy the peace process,” “jeopardize regional and international security” and “plunge the entire region into anarchy and violence.” Some Palestinian officials went so far as to state that such a move would be considered an “assault on all Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.” They also threatened to “revoke” Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
Regrettably, as Palestinian officials from across the political spectrum joined forces to broadcast sensational headlines in the mainstream media around the world, the reports about torture of Palestinian detainees in a PA prison failed to attract the interest of the many journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The torture that takes place in PA-controlled prisons and detention centers is not new.
Over the past few years, Palestinians have become accustomed to hearing horror stories about what is happening within the walls of these structures. Yet, because it is not Israelis who are perpetrating the abuse, the reports are ho-hum to these journalists.
A Palestinian who points a finger at Israel is guaranteed a sympathetic ear among journalists. When a Palestinian complains of torture at the hands of Palestinian interrogators or security officers, it is seen as just more of the same. Worse: It is seen as “Oh those Arabs, what can anyone expect from them?”
Ironically, it is the Hamas and Palestinian Authority media outlets that publish such reports. The two sides regularly report about the abuse of human rights and torture in each other’s prisons and detention centers as part of the smear campaign they have been waging against each other for the past decade.
Hamas-affiliated media outlets are teeming with reports documenting cases of torture in PA detention facilities in the West Bank. Similarly, PA media organizations are always happy to hear from any Palestinian who is prepared to recount his or her ordeal in a Hamas prison in the Gaza Strip.
The bottom line: both Hamas and the PA, according to testimonies and reports, are practicing torture in their prisons. Neither cares a fig for the rights of detainees and prisoners, and both scoff at the values of international human rights. But because human rights organizations, lawyers and relatives are so often denied access to the Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Hamas and the PA, they cannot get any first-hand information from the prisoners themselves. They are people — being tortured in prison!
All of this makes perfect sense, of course: Hamas is an extremist Islamist movement that does not consider itself obliged to abide by international laws and treaties concerning basic
human rights. Indeed, the concept of human rights simply does not exist under Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where public freedoms, including free speech and media, are non-existent.
Then how does the Western-funded PA, which has long attempted to join international bodies such as the United Nations, explain its systemic barbarity?
For years, the PA has been acting as an “independent state” that is recognized by more than 100 countries. As such, foreign governments, especially American and European taxpayers, are entitled, or rather obliged, to hold the PA accountable for human rights violations and demand transparency and accountability. This right derives from the fact that the PA is asking to become part of the international community by winning recognition for a Palestinian state. Unless, of course, the international community is willing to welcome yet another Arab state that tramples upon human rights, and practices torture in its prisons.
The most recent evidence of torture in the West Bank was disclosed in a report by a Hamas-affiliated online website. The report sheds light on some of the torture methods employed by PA interrogators and offers a unique insight into the conditions detainees are held under. The report refers specifically to the notorious Jericho Central Prison, which is controlled by various security branches of the PA.
Entitled “Jericho Prison — A Fort of Torture?” the report describes conditions inside the prison as similar to those sensational films aired on TV screens to draw the attention of viewers.
A Palestinian who was recently released from the Jericho Central Prison is quoted as saying that anyone who arrives at the facility is first blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back before he is severely beaten by five to 10 security officers. One of the most common forms of torture in the PA prison, he recounted, is called the “shabah” position, where a prisoner’s hands are shackled and he is hung from the ceiling for several hours. During this time, the detainee is beaten on all parts of his body. If the detainee tries to move or change his position, the beating gets worse. Sometimes, the “shabah” takes place inside the prison lavatories.
Another infamous form of torture in the Jericho Central Prison is the “falaka,” where the victims are whipped on their bare feet. According to the testimony of another former detainee, who is identified only as Abu Majd, he was subjected to the “falaka” with a plastic hose for several hours each session. Sometimes, one of the “interrogators” would also slap him on the face while he was being whipped on his bare feet.
Abu Majd reported that he was also subjected to another well-known form of torture, where he would be asked to “climb” a non-existent ladder on a wall. Because there is no ladder and the detainee cannot “climb” it, he is punished with more beatings.
Other former detainees recounted sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and being locked up in a small closet with powerful air-conditioning as common practices of torture in the same prison. This is in addition to verbal abuse, of course, and forcing detainees to sleep on the floor without mattresses or blankets.
In 2013, two Palestinian detainees reportedly died from torture in the Jericho Central Prison five days apart from each other. They were identified as Arafat Jaradat and Ayman Samarah.
Earlier this month, the father of Ahmed Salhab, who was recently detained by PA security forces and taken to the Jericho prison, complained that his son’s health was seriously harmed as a result of torture. The father said that his son was suffering from acute pain after being hit on the head by his interrogators.
Detainees in Palestinian prisons have reportedly gone on hunger strikes to protest their incarceration and torture. Unfortunately for them, they are not going on hunger strikes in an Israeli prison, where such actions garner the immediate interest of the mainstream media.
A London-based human rights organization reported 3,175 cases of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, by the PA security forces in the West Bank during 2016. According to the report, hundreds of those detained include university students and lecturers, as well as schoolteachers.
During the same year, the PA security forces also detained 27 Palestinian journalists, the report revealed.
PA political and security officials dismiss these reports as Hamas-orchestrated “propaganda.” But one does not need wait for Hamas to tell the world about torture and human rights abuses at the hands of PA security officers. Among the thousands of Palestinians who have experienced incarceration in PA prisons and detention facilities during the past two decades, many are willing to tell their stories. But who is willing to listen?
Not Western governments, human rights organizations and journalists. Most of them seek evil in Israel, and Israeli alone. Yet such a policy aids and abets the emergence of yet another Arab dictatorship in the Middle East. For now, the residents of Jericho will continue to hear the screams of the tortured detainees in their city. The rest of the world will close its eyes and ears and continue to pretend that all is rosy in the land of Abbas.
A Two-State Solution? Just Not According to the Clinton Parameters
By Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies ( BESA)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: With the start of a new era in the White House, Israel must let go of the two-state solution as defined by the Clinton Parameters. It is time for a reassessment of Rabin’s approach, which stressed the importance of the preservation and development of Area C in Judea and Samaria under Israeli control as a prerequisite for defensible borders.
The entry of President Trump into the White House marks a new era in the US and around the world, giving rise to crises and upheavals as well as new opportunities. The demands of the State of Israel, in the context of its overall vital interests in the region, will be reviewed and reassessed. It is imperative that Israel formulate a clear stand on central issues based on wide public support. As a first step, Israel must let go of the two-state solution as laid out in the Clinton Parameters.
The time has come to inquire what Prime Minister Netanyahu means when he speaks of his commitment to a two-state solution. When even the leaders of the Zionist Left agree that settlement blocs should remain under Israeli sovereignty, it must be clarified for the public what these blocs actually mean. Do they contribute anything towards Israel’s need for defensible borders?
The course Israel has taken since the signing of the Oslo Accords requires critical examination, regardless of the essential reassessment in anticipation of the Trump era. Since the autumn of 1993, almost everything has changed. Above all, new threats have emerged with a previously unknown military logic of their own.
The Israeli-Palestinian issue, too, has undergone significant changes. The Oslo idea, in its quest to end Israeli control over Palestinian citizens, was largely realized. It was already complete in January 1996, when Israel concluded the withdrawal of its forces from the populated territories of the West Bank. The Palestinian population living in Areas A and B, or approximately 90% of the total Palestinian population of the West Bank, has been controlled since then by the Palestinian Authority (PA). How can this be described as “apartheid”?
In the summer of 2005, the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip ended (control over the Palestinian population in the Strip had already been transferred to the PA in May 1994). Gaza has been a sovereign entity controlled by Hamas since its seizure of power in the summer of 2007. East Jerusalem and Area C in the West Bank remain in dispute, including settlements, army bases, major roads, vital commanding areas, and the open expanse towards the Jordan Valley.
These areas, held by Israel, are the minimum required for the conservation of a defensible territory. They fill two necessary conditions for a secure Israel. The first is the buffer area of the Jordan Valley, without which it would be impossible to prevent the quick arming of Palestinian terrorists in Judea and Samaria. The second is the advantage of Israeli control over the main longitudinal and lateral routes, which, together with the hold over the commanding areas, enables speedy access of IDF operational forces deep into Palestinian concentrations. Relinquishing these prerequisites in the Gaza Strip enabled the emergence of the Hamas military threat.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and the Paris Conference further solidified the notion of two states as requiring a complete overlap of two not-necessarily congruent trends: the ending of Israeli control over the Palestinians, and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a full Israeli withdrawal. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was disinclined towards this overlap, as expressed in his last speech in the Knesset (October 1995). He was resolute on Jerusalem and emphasized the crucial hold by Israel of the Jordan Valley and the lateral routes leading to it.
The Clinton Parameters for conflict resolution, laid out in December 2000, were a step back from Rabin’s position. The turnaround was summed up in two premises not held by Rabin. The first was that the solution required the establishment of a continuous, fully sovereign Palestinian state, whereas Rabin envisaged a political entity short of a fully-fledged state. The second was that the border between Israel and Palestine should be based, with minor changes, on the 1967 borders in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
These premises left very little room for negotiation. Some clarification is required on how the Israeli position pulled away from the Rabin solution and towards the Clinton solution, which, in all likelihood, Rabin would not have accepted.
It is noteworthy that Rabin exploited the implementation of the Oslo accords to reshape the area as delineated by Israeli security interests. As part of this effort, he led a drive to construct a network of bypassing roads in Area C, without which the IDF would have had great difficulty advancing its forces to the deployment areas during Operation Defensive Shield (2002). The IDF could not, for example, have transferred a tank division hauled on tank transporters from the Anatot Base to Nablus if its route had passed through Police Square in Ramallah.
The fast, advanced road network outlined by Rabin gave Israel control over routes and flexibility in operating IDF forces, and demonstrated during Operation Defensive Shield the operational significance of utilizing to the full an area that is defensible. Rabin’s expanse-shaping moves were conducted concurrently with progress on the implementation of the Oslo Accords, and the international community made no claims that he was misleading it.
By contrast, any advance, however small, made in building up Jerusalem raises the suspicion that Netanyahu may not be sincere in his intentions about two states. There are many reasons for this difference, one of the most important being that Rabin did not commit to a continuous Palestinian state in the form of the Clinton Parameters. Netanyahu, especially during his term after 2009, found himself tied to that frame of reference.
At the strategic crossroads where we now stand, the Israeli government must re-clarify the complex of security interests inherent in Israel’s control over Area C. In this re-examination, Israel must depart from the idea of two states as interpreted, for example, by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of the National Security Council. He has argued and continues to argue that while current circumstances do not allow the reaching of a permanent agreement, and it is dangerous to rush towards unilateral withdrawal, the idea of dividing the area into two states on the basis of the 1967 borders, with amendments made for “settlement blocs,” is nevertheless the only reasonable option by international standards. Therefore, according to his understanding, settlement activity in all remaining areas that might someday be included in a Palestinian state should be avoided. Statements along these lines and in this spirit have also been made by Dennis Ross. Herein lies the main disagreement on what to do in Area C.
An Israeli reassessment has the potential to introduce a change in Jerusalem’s position by renewing its demand for the preservation of a defensible area, which depends on consistent Israeli hold over Area C.
The Israeli and international dominant discourse puts the State of Israel at an imaginary crossroads with only two options: preserving the democratic Jewish state by retreating to the 1967 areas, or becoming trapped in a conflicted binational state in which apartheid is inevitable. This is a conceptual trap not devoid of manipulation, as a crossroads allows more than two directions. The Israeli discourse, caught between these two dichotomous choices, ignores the potential security threat stemming from loss of control over the depth of the area and the Jordan Valley.
Senior security officials who support withdrawal assure the public that the army would be able to meet the country’s security challenges even with withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Their position ignores important changes that have taken place. If, after the withdrawal, the West Bank is taken over by an organization similar to Hamas in Gaza – Hezbollah, in all likelihood – the IDF would struggle to provide an adequate response to the possibility of simultaneous attack on Israel on several fronts.
These officials claim that even after uprooting the Jewish residents, the IDF would be able to operate throughout the area. But they ignore the level of forces that would be required for this undertaking. Without the mass presence of a Jewish population, the IDF will be defeated, and will withdraw as it did from south Lebanon in May 2000.
In the new war, under the new logic, citizens have a significant role to play in the general fighting effort. This was visible in the fighting in Donetsk, Crimea, and Abkhazia, as well as in the Chinese expansion into the China Sea via thousands of civilian fishing boats. It is a familiar necessity resonating from the early days of Zionism: to maximize the civilian presence together with a military foothold.
In short, without a constant hold on the whole of Area C, Israel has no defensible borders. The way Rabin delineated the expanse of Area C demonstrates his farsighted understanding of the importance of those areas beyond the 1967 borders, which must be in Israel’s full control.
It is time to emphasize that there is more than one way to realize the two-state logic. It is in Israel’s security interests that it embark on full-scale construction in Area C.